“My main goal was to kind of get them to mesh pretty good and really build on a defense that we’ve been kind of having,” said head coach Erwin Claggett.
The roster was full of either non-starting returning varsity players or completely new varsity players. The team chemistry was hard to get down, and playing with an entirely new squad took some time.
“It was pretty difficult getting used to playing with so many new guys but it didn’t take long for us to figure out how to play with each other and for each other, ” said senior captain Carter Kane.
The team’s 0-8 start was not entirely a surprise.
“I knew that it would be one of the most inexperienced teams that I’ve ever coached because even the upperclassmen hadn’t had a lot of varsity experience and we were gonna be mixing in some of the younger kids at the same time, so I knew that was going to be a challenge,” said Claggett.
Despite their record, four young superstars emerged as critical parts of the team. Freshmen Luke Johnston, Jaden McClain, Nick Kramer, and sophomore Freddie Cooper all became starters or important players throughout the year.
“I think a lot of that preparation came from practice and from the seniors telling them what their expectations were and from them getting experience from the games in the first place,” said senior Christian Wallace-Hughes. “I think that they are prepared now, but during the season they still had some things that they had to get over like their lack of communication, their lack of presence on the court, their inexperience, and their lack of confidence.”
While trying to find a way to play better, the team found that it was smart for most of the underclassmen to play together and get valuable varsity minutes to help them later.
“It just kind of transpired that way where we start kind of focusing on the younger kids and they start playing a little better and the fact that they got healthy,” said Claggett.
Claggett kept powering through with the season, even after losing Kramer who suffered a gruesome broken arm against Trinity, and junior Wes Gould, who hurt his ankle numerous times. The team never had a full healthy roster until almost the end of the season.
“I think the one thing that plagued us this year was the fact that we didn’t have a healthy roster until like two weeks before the season ended,” said Claggett. “At some point in time during the year, we had guys with broken bones, poor muscles, and we had a ton of injuries.”
Not allowing turnovers, and getting rebounds on both ends of the court are crucial to winning games. The Jr. Bills struggled to stop turnovers due to their lack of experience, and they had a hard time getting rebounds because of their lack of size. Wallace-Hughes was the biggest player on the team at 6’4”, and he found himself getting most of the rebounds until near the end of the season.
“At the beginning, it was basically only me rebounding, but at the end, everyone, or at least most of the team, were crashing down for both offensive and defensive rebounds,” said Wallace-Hughes. “I would attribute that to coach Claggett saying to always want the ball and to always get the rebound.”
The young talent’s shooting ability helped the cause throughout the season. Freshman Luke Johnston lead the team in points. Sophomore Luke Ratterman and freshman Kevin Hogan were both called up to varsity two weeks before playoffs. Ratterman’s mid-range ability improved the team’s offense.
SLUH had 31 turnovers in their final game against McCluer North, ending a tough season.
“We never were able to get our footing along with all the inexperience that we had,” said Claggett.
Despite the team’s struggles this season, filled with tough locker room speeches, the Bills came out learning something much bigger than basketball: How to be a “man for others.”
“The one thing that I’ve always preached was for the guys to become engulfed in the work and not really worry about the results, focus on first and foremost be a good person and a good teammate, and that’s how you kind of leave your legacy when you leave here,” said Claggett. “People recognize that you’re a good teammate, that you’re a hard worker, and that you represented SLUH the right way.”
The example Claggett provided wore off on the team, especially the seniors.
“This year showed me that not everything in life is going to go the way you think, but through it, you must be there for one another,” said senior Joey Lally. “Basketball has taught me me to be a better person in which I grew in patience and could support my teammates and those around me. I am definitely going to miss my friends on the team and all of the lessons that coach (Claggett) taught me. I am going to hold on to those forever.”